Monday, October 25, 2010

Frugal Jewish Education: Using the iTunes store to build your Jewish music library

The book of Proverbs teaches us, "Chanoch L'Na'ar Al Pi Darcho" - "Teach your child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it."  This is one of the bases for the mitzvah (commandment) to Jewishly educate our children.  According to traditional interpretation, the commandment "P'ru Ur'vu" - "Be Fruitful and Multiply" is not only an imperative to have children if we are able, but also to raise and educate them. 

Throughout the life of this blog I'll be sharing some frugal tools and methods that I've found for Jewishly educating my children.  This is in no way intended to be a slam on formal Jewish education - I believe that formal Jewish education, such as Jewish preschool, supplementary religious school, Jewish day school, and Jewish camp - are powerful and important tools in educating and socializing our children in a Jewish communal context, among other things. 

As a Jewish educator myself, however, I understand that formal Jewish education doesn't tend to "stick" as well unless those ideas and lessons are somehow reinforced at home.  While I am an ordained rabbi and have an extensive education that allows me to someday (G-d willing) teach my children very in-depth and detailed lessons, you don't have to be a rabbi to instill a love of Judaism and Jewish learning and a sense of Jewish commitment in your children.  There are tons of great things you can do in your home that require little to no knowledge of Hebrew or Jewish anything to reinforce what your kinderlach (kids) are learning at school.  This series will highlight those as I encounter them myself.

My children are very young, which means that while they can't grasp detailed or in-depth lessons, their little brains are forming a mile a minute.  That also means that they respond to the most basic of lessons, internalizing things like language building-blocks and melodies to songs at an astonishing rate.  We have a CD of Jewish camp songs that we play in the car, and the first track is "Modeh Ani," a Jewish prayer said upon waking up.  I was astonished that, while Asher cannot read or speak Hebrew, he could sing back not only the tune, but most of the words to the song.  Little children learn through repetition, and while Judaism does not value rote recitation of the prayers without understanding the words, I think it's really good for my kids to know how to say the prayers and understand their basic meanings. ("We sing 'Modeh Ani' in the morning to thank G-d for another new day ahead of us.")  Now I know they're capable of learning to say a prayer like "Modeh Ani" even if it contains more complicated Hebrew and ideas.

This motivated me to have even more Jewish music on hand to play for my kids.   With Chanukah just around the corner (at the beginning of December this year!  Yikes!) I wanted to employ the "listen to a CD over and over again" technique to help my oldest learn the blessings for the candles and some other songs (and my littler ones to become familiar with the tunes.) 

This is where iTunes came in.  I knew I wanted some specific songs, like "Maoz Tzur" and the Candle Blessings, but I didn't know which versions both my kids and I would want to listen to over and over and over again.   A quick search in the iTunes store gave me a list of songs I could sample.
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I really liked the sound of one version, so I clicked over to the whole album ("ShirLaLa Chanukah" RULES) and bought a bunch of songs I liked. 
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Pandora Radio is another great tool for this.  You can "create your own radio station" to listen to songs of a certain genre.   Type in "Chanukah" to listen to full songs.

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This is where the "frugal" part comes in.  iTunes lets you, in most cases, purchase one song at a time, so if you're looking for 3 specific songs, you pay your $3, your kids learn the prayers, and you're done.  I decided I really liked the whole CD, and I bought it (19 songs) for $10 - around $.50 a song, or a great bargain.  Or, if you're using Pandora, you listen to whole songs for FREE.

My kids are already listening to the songs in the car and learning about Chanukah.  Asher can tell you the story of the Maccabees and the oil that lasted for 8 days, and he knows the basic tune for candlelighting now.  I dropped $10 and I only have to spend as much time as I would spend in the car anyway on this little piece of their Jewish education.  It may be obvious - but I'm learning new tunes too!  This is a great way to not only teach your child, but learn together with him.

Stay tuned for more Frugal Jewish Education posts!


  1. which camp CD do you listen to? we have put together our own playlists of favorites, but i'm always looking for more. my favorite chanukah CD is "The Jewish Wedding Band's A Child's Chanukah" - I once took it out of the library because it's no longer in print, but it is great.

    I do the same for as many holidays as there are's hard to find music for some of the Sukkot.

  2. Hi Leigh Ann - This is my first comment here, so first I'll say that I'm so glad to have found your blog (being a frugal ima, as well as a bookish one)!

    It never occurred to me to use iTunes or Pandora for Jewish music and it's such a brilliant idea. I'm off to search now. This is probably a Luddite question, but how do you listen to MP3s in the car?

    Psst, Phyllis, you can find Sukkot songs for kids (in Hebrew) at Sifrutake: (Look for "Chagei Tishrei" compilations, not just Sukkot CDs.) They have good ones for Tu bi-Shvat, Lag ba-Omer, and others that are hard to find.

  3. Hiiiii! Thanks so much for commenting, ladies! Phyllis, I listen to Camps Swigand Newman "Shir L'Yom Chadash" - lots of little kids singing, perfect for teaching tunes. I am also in love with Rachel Buchman's Sukkot recordings, her stuff is on iTunes.

    Inoursmallgarden, thanks for introducing yourself! Looking forward to poking around your blog :)

  4. We homeschool and having an iPod has definitely changed our lives. We use it constantly both in the house and car. Plus the kids love listening to it with earphones. Can't recommend this enough if you can swing it. Lucky for us, ours was a gift from my sister! :)

  5. Thanks for your comment, Shoshana! I'm definitely going to follow your blog because we are currently playing with the idea of homeschooling in one form or another. :)

    We have an iPod touch and it's amazing how intuitive it is for the little ones to use. Mine don't love the headphones, so it's good the touch has speakers. I would loooove a Hebrew letters app - let me know if you know of any!

    Shavua Tov. :)


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